College of Engineering and Technology graduates honored at ceremony

A sea of purple-clad Pirates walked into Minges Coliseum to be honored as new graduates of East Carolina University.

The College of Engineering and Technology hosted its 2023 Spring Graduate Recognition Ceremony, with nearly 500 smiling undergraduate and graduate students crossing the stage to shake hands with Dr. Harry Ploehn, dean of the college, and their respective department chairs.

Master’s graduates are all smiles during the 2023 Spring Graduate Recognition Ceremony on Friday. (Photo by Ken Buday)

“It’s truly a pleasure and an honor to share this special day with all of you to recognize your accomplishments and congratulate you on this milestone in your lives,” Ploehn told the class of 2023. “Graduates, you worked very hard, you persevered and you made it across the finish line.”

Ploehn acknowledged the family and friends who supported the graduates along the way, and the college’s faculty and staff who pushed the students to reach their academic goals. He offered the new graduates this advice: “Keep trying to do your best. Never give up on yourself.”

He said ECU prepared them well for a lifetime of learning that’s ahead of them.

“Whether it’s a new job, the next job or grad school, you will all have new horizons waiting for you as Pirates to go and capture,” Ploehn said. “Based on your accomplishments so far, we have every reason to believe that you will triumph in your next Pirate adventure. Congratulations graduates, and now, let’s celebrate.”

During the ceremony, the family of engineering student Blake Smith Boyette accepted his degree. Boyette, 22, passed away at the end of the fall semester.


Working as a dental assistant, Maria Alexandra Ortiz became increasingly frustrated with the computer software she needed to use for her job.

ECU software engineering student Maria Alexandra Ortiz stands with her parents and children outside Minges Coliseum. (Photo by Ken Buday)

“I would stress that I can’t believe this computer is doing this, so I decided to go back to school for it,” she said. “I like problem-solving, creating applications that make people’s lives easier.”

Ortiz received her bachelor’s degree in software engineering on Friday at ECU.

“I’m still a bit in denial. I didn’t see myself this far,” she said of graduating. “I knew I was going to do it, but I didn’t know it was going to be in a blink of an eye, so it’s shocking for me.”

Ortiz is a first-generation college graduate in her family, crediting her parents for inspiring her to obtain a degree.

“Their level of education was pretty much the fifth grade,” she said. “When they came to this country, pretty much all they drilled into my head was education, constantly. I’m the first one to do it, and I’ve worked hard to do it.”

She commuted about 50 minutes to ECU from Pikeville, where she is raising her two children, a 12-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter who is an ECU freshman.

“You have to know how to balance being a mom, an employee because I work and being a student,” Ortiz said. “The hardest part has been adapting to the responsibility of keeping up with everything and being organized with my schedule.”

That busy schedule included serving as an officer in ECU’s Women in Tech student organization and as a Department of Computer Science ambassador.

With a concentration in mobile and web development and a minor in business, Ortiz is looking for a remote job that will allow her to use the skills she obtained at ECU while also giving her the time to continue her education toward a master’s degree.

“Eventually in the future, I want to have my own business once I have the time and experience,” Ortiz said.

And don’t tell her it can’t be done.

“For me, my motto is there’s always a way. There’s always a way,” she said. “Don’t come to me with pessimism because my mind is always thinking there’s a way. God is too big, and I know that everything is possible. I think like that: There’s always a way.”


Purple and gold may just run through the blood of engineering graduate Cole Dickerson. His father, Daniel Dickerson, is the associate dean for research in the College of Education, and his sister, Ashby Dickerson, is also a student at ECU.

ECU engineering student Cole Dickerson stands with family prior to commencement. (Photo by Ken Buday)

From Gates County, Dickerson decided to attend ECU as an EC Scholar, the most prestigious undergraduate award program offered at ECU through the Honors College.

“My dad had been working here for five or six years then, so I had been coming to football games for a long time. I always liked ECU since I was from northeastern North Carolina,” Dickerson said. “I was super impressed with the opportunities that the Honors College showed me, and I had a chance to meet with some of the engineering people, and I was really interested in some research opportunities that they told me about.”

He said the opportunities he had to travel while a student at ECU stand out.

“I’ve done internships in Germany. I lived there for three months,” Dickerson said. “Last summer, I was in Golden, Colorado, working for the National Renewable Energy Lab. I got to travel to Barrow, Alaska, and Cyprus doing some buoy deployments. I did a conference in Maryland. I’ve done EC Scholars trips to New York and Asheville. It’s been a good run of traveling. It’s been fun.”

As a water scholars award recipient, he was part of a unique project.

“I was doing a surfboard water quality sensor,” he said. “That was Bluetooth. It was a device that goes on the leash of a surfboard and sends temperature data back to your phone and then a computer.”

Dickerson credits faculty and staff in the Department of Engineering as well as in the Honors College for helping him hear his name and cross the stage during Friday’s ceremony.

“I think the reason I had such an amazing time here is because the faculty is so willing to work with you,” he said. “The research opportunities and the internship opportunities provided by ECU are unmatched in terms of access. I think that was the reason I was able to be so competitive with grad school applications. It set me up really well for the next four years.”

Those next four years will be spent in pursuit of a doctorate in engineering at N.C. State, with a long-term goal of working as an electrical engineer for a communications company.

“It will be sad to leave, but I’m happy I’m not going too far away, so I’ll be able to come back and visit,” Dickerson said.


As a chief boatswain’s mate in the U.S. Coast Guard, Tesse Mae Norwood is used to rough water. However, she said her experience as a distance education student was relatively smooth sailing.

Tesse Norwood, a chief boatswain’s mate in the U.S. Coast Guard, received her Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technology on Friday. (Contributed photo)

“When I first enrolled at ECU, the staff — specifically Amy Frank — ensured that we felt like we were part of the community at ECU,” said Norwood, who graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Industrial Technologythrough the Department of Technology Systems. “They planned an entire day for us to visit campus, get ID cards and see everything campus had to offer. I was able to buy ECU shirts for my family and truly feel like I was a college student.”

Her decision to attend ECU came easily when she moved to Emerald Isle about 10 years ago.

“I loved the pride that I saw with all the ECU sweatshirts and hats around town,” she said. “After attending online based schools, I said, ‘I want to go to a real college, one that people would recognize when I said the name and are proud to have gone there.’”

Norwood is the Officer in Charge at Coast Guard Station Elizabeth City, where her primary duty is to lead a unit of 30 members while maintaining search and rescue coverage in the Albemarle and Currituck sounds and surrounding rivers.

“I balanced my military duties and course requirements by never overloading myself,” she said. “If I had a qualification that I needed to work on for the Coast Guard or a permanent change of station across the world, I would choose to do one course at a time. That way I would be continuously enrolled at ECU, while being able to fulfill my military commitment.”

She was glad to be able to participate in commencement activities.

“I feel extremely lucky for the opportunity to walk across the stage as a DE student,” Norwood said. “I had to relocate with the military to Guam three years ago while I was attending ECU. I was recently restationed back in North Carolina this past summer, lining up perfectly with me being able to attend the commencement ceremony.”

Norwood said she received plenty of support from her husband as well as her sister during her educational journey, and thanked Coast Guard Education Services Officer Gordon Yowell for helping her navigate required paperwork and tuition requests amid the variables that occur with being a member of the military.

“Having a degree when I exit the military could be a game changer,” she said. “I wanted to increase my chances of being successful once I make my transition into the civilian workforce.”


Andres Acero Molina came to the United States three years ago without knowing how to speak English. Now, he has his master’s degree in construction management.

Andres Acero Molina received his master’s in construction management on Friday. (Contributed photo)

“I am so happy because, first of all, it has been a wonderful opportunity to learn about different cultures, and different guidelines and rules in the United States in construction fields,” said Acero Molina, who is originally from Bogota, Columbia. “It’s been a wonderful opportunity to interact with different people here in the United States. It’s been a wonderful experience.”

Acero Molina came to the United States in the winter of 2020 to learn English.

“My purpose at the beginning was to learn English and get that international experience and then return to my home country,” he said. “We had the pandemic, and the journey and the purpose are now different.”

His plans now are to work in the United States.

“I am looking at different opportunities to work in the construction field,” he said.

Acero Molina said his English instructor suggested he look at master’s programs at ECU. He found that construction management would fit well with the bachelor’s degree in civil engineering that he obtained in Columbia, so he enrolled at ECU in the fall of 2021.

As a master’s student, Acero Molina worked as a research assistant, exploring the use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) for construction purposes.

“It was a new experience,” said Acero Molina, whose background is in contract management. “It was interesting.”

The work paid off. He received his FAA Remote Pilot Certificate, presented the research at ECU, to the N.C. Department of Transportation and during the Washington-Warren Air and Drone Show, and had two conference publications and one journal publication.

Acero Molina said he enjoyed his experience at ECU because of that research as well as the opportunity to meet new people. He credits Dr. Yilei Huang, associate professor in the Department of Construction Management, for his support.

“My research and my experience at ECU, the journey that I’ve had — learning English as a second language for a year and a half, and then two years more doing my master’s degree and working on my research as a research assistant — have been a wonderful experience. “Acero Molina said. “I learned a lot of things. My professional skills and my academic skills have been improved.”

Graduates celebrate after the 2023 Spring Graduate Recognition Ceremony. (Photo by Ken Buday)